Syrian City Recovers From Car Bombings
Fear and anxiety have reigned over the southern Syrian city of Jaramana since it became a frequent target for car bombings. According to the local Red Crescent, 18 car bombs have gone off there during the past two-and-a-half years, leaving more than 300 people dead.
The bomb attacks did not have military targets. The worst hit a funeral procession near the city cemetery on August 28, 2012, and another attack on November 28 that year killed 80 people. The latter was the largest car bomb targeting civilians since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011.
That was followed by two car bombs in Souyouf Square. The first, on July 25, 2013, left 40 people dead. The second exploded on August 6 on Ra’ees Street, killing 40 and wounding 128.
Jaramana, whose residents are mainly Christian and Druze, has not witnessed the fierce fighting that its neighbours in Ghouta have suffered, despite the presence of the opposition, and several anti-regime demonstrations that have taken place since the start of the protests. The Syrian regime controls the area, but residents have a range of political sympathies.
“When you meet residents up close, you see that there are some who support the regime and some who oppose it,” said a 64-year-old opposition supporter and former political prisoner who introduced himself as Abu al-Majd.
Sawsan was on her way home on August 6 when he was injured in the car bomb attack.
“As soon as I entered a shop to buy some groceries, the car exploded and I saw all hell break loose around me,” she said. “I was hit in the head and leg. Thank God I was in the shop. Now I am afraid to leave the house or walk through crowded areas.”
The car bombs have led the 500,000 residents of Jaramana, part of the wider Damascus municipal area, to take every possible precaution when they encounter a suspect vehicle or individual.
Many areas have been cordoned off with security checkpoints to prevent cars from entering, particularly around religious buildings and sites.
“People have become afraid to be out on the street for anything that is not absolutely necessary, especially at night,” said Saeed al-Atrash, a Red Crescent worker. “From time to time, you can hear the sounds of night-time clashes – some of them very fierce – in Ghouta, , interspersed with sounds of explosions. That makes people even more fearful.”
Residents are angry and frustrated with the Syrian government’s response to the deadly explosions.
At least one member of the government militias known as “popular committees” has resigned.
“I laid down my weapons along with some of my friends,” said Saleh, 28, who quit the militia in July. “I don’t know who is behind the car bombs, but I am sure these cars did not pass through the checkpoints. We have asked several times for bomb detectors to be placed at the entrance to the city, but the government security forces refused, claiming that they were too expensive and the government could not afford them.”
The latest explosions in Jaramana were followed by a campaign of arrests by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces that targeted leaders of the popular committees in the city. According to local activists, members of the Presidential Guard arrested two leaders at checkpoints, in addition to others. Chief among them was Hussein Shu’ayb, known as the “shabiha” leader for the area. The reason for the arrests remains unclear, and anxiety still pervades the town.
For a long time, Jaramana tried to avoid provoking tensions with rebel-held neighbouring areas. Its residents have engaged in humanitarian work and taken in large numbers of people from the Damascus countryside who were displaced when their areas were shelled.
“We have an ethical stance,” Abu al-Majd said. “Jaramana has taken in more than 80,000 refugees, and families of the Free Syrian Army have lived in the city since regime forces began shelling their cities.”
Majd said that the situation in Jaramana was as good as it could be given the war ravaging the entire country.
“Like other areas with minorities, Jaramana did not fully participate in the uprising because it wasn’t prepared to deal with the consequences of what happened in rebel areas,” he said.
According to local residents, there are several organisations helping displaced people, such as the Committee for Civil Work in Jaramana, the Emergency Relief Committee, and many individual activist initiatives.
Contrary to the popular view that Jaramana is supportive of the regime, many young people there have joined the ranks of the Free Syrian Army, forming the “Grandchildren of Bani Maarouf Brigade”. Nevertheless, Jaramana has remained at a remove from the fighting in the area, since it has not been categorised as an “anti-uprising town”.
(Names of interviewees changed for security reasons.)
This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.